I first thought of a possible gaslight-era ghost story anthology a few years ago when I was re-reading the ghostly tales of M.R. James, with their wonderful evocations of ancient cloisters and musty libraries where sinister phantoms and beasties lie subtly in wait for unwary scholars and innocent itinerant clergymen. Gripped as ever by James’s disquietingly erudite terrors, I resolved to read a lot more Victorian and Edwardian supernatural fiction, and in compiling my list--Sheridan Le Fanu, Henry James, Algernon Blackwood, Walter de la Mare, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert W. Chambers, Arthur Machen, Edith Wharton, Ambrose Bierce--it struck me how many contemporary horror and fantasy writers have equivalent skills, sometimes even expressed in a nostalgic nineteenth century idiom. If the golden age of the ghost story fell between 1850 and 1914, maybe it was an age worth recapturing as well as celebrating? Imagining a big book of spooky Dickensian hauntings penned by my favourite contemporary authors, I was thrilled into action. Jack Dann, whose anthologies I had long admired, was soon on board as co-editor, bringing profound expertise and energetic enthusiasm to the project, and Harper Voyager, the first publisher we approached, was no less keen. Ghosts by Gaslight would be a reality!
We are, of course, living in steampunk times, as witness numerous steampunk-aligned novels, anthologies, movies, websites, journalistic articles, blogs, museum exhibits, parties, clubs, fashion lines, weird musical ensembles, etc. So it was only natural to take Ghosts by Gaslight in that gadget-fixated direction--after all, many prominent people back in the 1800s and early 1900s believed spiritualism, with its mediums, séances, and voices from beyond the grave, was factual and scientifically verifiable. If only Nikola Tesla, or perhaps Thomas Edison, had looked a little more carefully in that direction... Thus, quite a few of our contributors explore the technology of the supernatural--could scientists in 1880, or 1900, have created mechanisms to capture, focus, and amplify ectoplasmic wraiths? Ghosts by Gaslight therefore explores both sides of the conflict between the living and the dead: in some of our tales, human beings are beset--haunted, horrified, manipulated--by malevolent phantoms, but in others it is ghostly entities that are victimized by people like us. As editors, Jack and I have been pleased to see this unusual pattern emerge--our seventeen writers have risen brilliantly to the challenge we set them, at times paying note-perfect homage to the masters of the past, at other times building on their achievements to novel, and cunningly sinister, effect. Ghosts by Gaslight is everything we dreamed it would be.
A feature of the ghost story a century ago was style. Writers took great trouble to evoke character, setting, atmosphere. Their prose was full-breathed, eloquently descriptive of physical surroundings and subjective disturbance; readers of such tales experienced, and can still experience, a total immersion in place and mood. A narrative like “The Turn of the Screw” or “The Wendigo” or “Carmilla” fuses its prose with sensations of terror; the words on the page are an intimate part of the hauntings portrayed. Here also the stories in Ghosts by Gaslight achieve distinction, echoing--quite often more than echoing--the stylistic distinction of the classic originals. This is another great source of satisfaction for Jack and me--to have midwifed into the world splendid prose that, again and again, summons the spirit of an ancestral world to renewed, vigorous--yet majestically spectral--artistic life.
GHOSTS BY GASLIGHT, edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers, pulls together a wonderful anthology of supernatural and steampunk tales: haunted houses, phantoms beneath the floorboards, ghostly coachmen, ghosts in the machine, gaslit streets, deep frights, and twisted variations on the dark stories of old.
The lineup of authors is simply fantastic:
James Morrow -- “The Iron Shroud”
Peter S. Beagle -- “Music, When Soft Voices Die”
Terry Dowling -- “The Shaddowwes Box”
Garth Nix -- “The Curious Case of the Moondawn Daffodils Murder As Experienced by Sir Magnus Holmes and Almost-Doctor Susan Shrike”
Gene Wolfe -- “Why I Was Hanged”
Margo Lanagan -- “The Proving of Smollett Standforth”
Sean Williams -- “The Jade Woman of the Luminous Star”
Robert Silverberg -- “Smithers and the Ghosts of the Thar”
John Langan -- “The Unbearable Proximity of Mr. Dunn’s Balloons”
John Harwood -- “Face to Face”
Richard Harland -- “Bad Thoughts and the Mechanism”
Marly Youmans -- “The Grave Reflection”
Theodora Goss -- “Christopher Raven”
Lucius Shepard -- “The Rose Street Attractors”
Laird Barron -- “Blackwood’s Baby”
Paul Park -- “Mysteries of the Old Quarter”
Jeffrey Ford -- “The Summer Palace”
This collection is perfect for everyone who loves ghost stories or the works of Poe and Wilkie Collins, plus the many fans of steampunk and smart horror. Dive in-just make sure you keep the lights on!